CNN: Bill Clinton: America has ‘bought the NRA’s theory’

Former president Bill Clinton talked with CNN on Wednesday and had a few choice things to say about the NRA. Those familiar with the former president should not be surprised that he looks disparagingly upon the NRA and gun owners:

The former president, in a conversation with CNN’s Erin Burnett at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York, lumped together the NRA, stand your ground laws, and people surrounding themselves only with those who agree with them as problems that lead to a more violent climate in the United States.

He does have a point with the last part — diversity is the spice of life, after all — but he’s way off base on the other points.

“I think we have enhanced the risks by changing the environment, basically, because it seems we bought the NRA’s theory that we would all be safer if everybody in this audience had a gun that was a concealed weapon,” Clinton said. “Then if one of them felt threatened by another, they could stand up right here and stand their ground. And we could watch the whole saga unfold. That is what happens.”

I fail to see how someone being lawfully able to defend themselves when genuinely threatened, regardless of where they happen to be at the time, is a bad thing.

Stand Your Ground laws are not a blanket license to kill anyone for any reason, but rather simply say that a person has no duty to retreat from a place they have a lawful right to be and can use force (including lethal force) if they reasonably believe they face an imminent and immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury (emphasis mine). They’d still need to explain themselves to the authorities after the fact, and it’s not uncommon for people invoking “stand your ground” provisions to be found guilty.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that even with the liberalization of concealed carry, the spread of Stand Your Ground, and other pro-gun-rights policies being enacted, gun-related violent crime is way down since Clinton was in office.

It looks like America has indeed “bought the NRA’s theory” and that theory is actually working.

Guns vs. Cars

Miguel over at GFZ posted an image from the CSGV in which they claim that “strictly regulating cars, drivers, and roads” has resulted in a 90% drop in automotive-related fatality rates in the last century or so.

Leaving aside the fundamental difference that the majority of automotive-related fatalities are due to accidents while the majority of gun-related fatalities are due to intentional acts (either suicide or homicide), I thought it would be interesting to do a quick apples-to-apples comparison between guns and cars:

Regulations on Cars/Guns

The “strict regulations” on cars were almost exclusively related to actual safety concerns of passengers in cars: seat belts, laminated windshields, safety glass, air bags, having electric lights instead of kerosene lamps, not exploding when rear-ended, generally not being made of flimsy materials like wood, etc. Compare, say, a Model T to a modern vehicle and the differences in regards to the safety of the occupants are obvious.

There’s also the matter of the environment in which cars are operated: in the early 1900s, cars were operated alongside pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages, etc. where collisions were much more likely. Modern cars are operated on dedicated roads and highways that are more isolated from pedestrians and slower-moving vehicles.

Guns are similar: guns that fire without the shooter desiring it (e.g. when dropped) are broken, as are guns that explode in normal operating conditions. Such guns are defective and are recalled or replaced. Guns have had many safety mechanisms for a long, long time: the 1911 has both a grip safety and a manual safety. The only major improvement I can think of that modern pistols have made in that regard is the addition of drop safeties.

Modern holsters are extremely safe (more so than just dropping a gun loose into a pocket) and retention holsters are available for modest cost to those who wish to buy them.

If anything, guns are far ahead of cars in regards to the safety of the operator.

Regulations on Drivers/Gun Owners

The “strict regulations” on those wishing to drive on public roads are basic vision tests that my grandparents had no trouble passing, a few hours of lessons in high school followed by a short written and behind-the-wheel exam by the DMV and you’re good to go for life.

Similar standards exist for those wishing to carry firearms in public: a few hours learning the basics of the legal issues regarding self-defense (e.g. when the use of force is appropriate), basic instruction on safe gun-handling, and a little time at the range. Typically such licenses must be renewed every few years.

No license or training is necessary for someone to operate a vehicle on private property. In most states guns that are used only at home or the range, but not carried in public, don’t require any license or permit,

Regulation of Roads/Ranges

In regards to roads, older roads are little more than paved country paths. Modern roads are well-engineered and safe.

The only things that’s really comparable for guns are organized ranges, which are typically well-managed and extremely safe.

All the ranges I know are extremely attentive about keeping the property well-maintained, in good repair, clean, etc. They all have regular clean-ups of the range as well as extraction/recycling of bullets from berms/backstops.

Discussion

Nearly all of the changes to laws regulating cars and drivers over the last century or so have related to genuine safety concerns and there is clear evidence for the effectiveness of seat belts, air bags, non-exploding cars, well-maintained electric lights, etc. in regards to improving safety.

Other important regulations have been in regards to improving fuel efficiency and reducing pollution, and while many people have been encouraging mass transit and improving street/city design to minimize the necessity for cars, there has been no non-lunatic-fringe efforts to dramatically reduce or eliminate the number of cars.

The same cannot be said for firearms: the majority of laws enacted regarding firearms have nothing to do about the safety of the operator of a firearm. A few, such as those requiring safe storage of firearms and mandating that gun locks are sold with each new gun, are nominally about safety but there’s no evidence that they’ve actually done anything positive for safety.

Also, essentially all of the so-called “gun safety” are, in fact, “gun control” groups that seek to significantly reduce the number of privately-owned firearms. Some groups and their members are willing to let hunters and sportsmen maintain guns suitable for those activities while eliminating “undesirable” guns like handguns, modern rifles, and so on, while others aren’t even willing to allow that and seek total civilian disarmament.

None of those groups promote things that would actually improve safety, like age-appropriate educational safety classes for children and adults.

 In Short

With very few exceptions, cars and guns are safe to use. Saying that more legislation is needed so guns can be “safer” is disingenuous, especially when there’s not really any pressing need (that is, guns exploding or otherwise accidentally injuring their users is very rare, and not typically the fault of the gun).

On going back in time

NPR had a recent article discussing the dangers of stray bullets, something which I agree is a problem.

Unusually, a few sentences in the comments section attracted my interest; I typically don’t participate in comment threads on news articles and try to avoid them where possible. However, a comment by an individual going by the name “Sean Gay” attracted my attention. This comment starts with,

Yet another reason to go back to the pre-2008 second amendment and allowing the implementation of gun laws to restrict access.

In a separate respond to some other commenter, Mr. Gay says:

Right, but all decisions prior to 2007 included the full text of the second amendment as a right for state-sanctioned militia. The decision of 2007 fundamentally rewrote the second amendment and the McDonald v Chicago decision exacerbated the situation. By striking down a completely reasonable restriction in 2007 it opened the gate for other reasonable controls to be broken down. It was a bad decision that went against the Constitution, precedent, law, and common sense.

I’ve seen a few articles and comments of this type recently, no doubt spurred on by media coverage of some recent, high-profile crimes. (As an aside, I note how individuals and the media basically ignore more routine crimes in places like Chicago.)

Some have gone to the extreme of comparing the Heller and McDonald cases to Dred Scott and other cases where the Supreme Court got things very, very wrong and suggest that the court ought to change their rulings on Heller and McDonald. Of course, such comparisons are absurd: Dred Scott and other similar cases are clear examples of the court ruling to explicitly deny or restrict people’s human rights (which is objectively wrong), while Heller and McDonald serve to protect people’s rights.

However, most of the comments avoid such explicit comparisons and are of a “Why can’t things be like they were before?” nature. They always seem to ignore the case law and historical context of the Second Amendment, which is well-cited by the Supreme Court in the Heller case, and erroneously assume that Heller made things up out of whole cloth.

They seem to think that if only Heller and McDonald were undone, the Second Amendment would be no obstacle to restricting guns. Perhaps they’re right, but it seems unlikely that they’d gather much traction: in addition to state constitutions protecting the right to keep and bear arms, the right to self-defense is an inherent one, and that right exists absent the protections of the Second Amendment or particular court rulings. Firearms have a long tradition of being used for defensive purposes, both in the US and abroad, and there’s certainly a lot of legal precedent that does not rely upon the Second Amendment and which supports the right to own firearms for self-protection and other lawful purposes.

Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that there are ordinary people out there who think that a complete ban on handguns (in the case of Heller) is a “reasonable restriction”. Such a position is both unreasonable and extreme, and serves only to restrict the rights of ordinary people. Readers would do well to remind their legislators of that fact, and to keep that in mind when voting in upcoming elections.

Update: I foolishly forgot to include a title in this post before publishing it. This has since been corrected.

Arizona news: HB 2455 gets signed!

Excellent news! HB 2455 passed!

HB 2455 clarifies that firearms surrendered voluntarily to police (for example, as a result of a “gun buy back” program) cannot be destroyed and must (assuming they’re legal and not stolen) be sold to licensed dealers who can in turn sell them to private citizens who pass a NICS check.

Previously, the police were only prohibited from destroying guns that were “recovered, lost, or abandoned” and there was some confusion as to whether or not guns that were voluntarily surrendered to police were “abandoned” — this bill clarifies the issue by adding “surrendered” and “or otherwise received”.

Many thanks to the AzCDL, the state legislature, and the governor for getting this done!

Technical Independence

The internet has contributed enormously to freedom of expression and global communications. Technical measures like encrypted VPNs have enabled people in restrictive, repressive societies to be heard by the rest of the world and access information otherwise prohibited to them.

This is fantastic, but there is one major drawback: the internet relies upon physical infrastructure. While there’s no getting around the necessity to lay cables or have wireless communications that terminate at various physical points (be they cable landing points, satellites and their ground stations, microwave towers, etc.), the issue of physical presence and legal jurisdiction for key internet infrastructure has been a concern of mine for a while.

Take, for example, the DNS root zone: due to the heirarchical structure of the Domain Name System (DNS), there needs to be a “root” from which all names are delegated. As an example consider the name of this website, www.arizonarifleman.com, this server is named “www” and is a subdomain of “arizonarifleman” which is in turn a subdomain of “com” which is in turn a subdomain of the root1.

All top-level domains like “com”, “net”, “org”, “uk”, “au”, and so on are subsets of the root. While alternative roots have come and gone over the years, the official root is the de-facto standard. To put it bluntly, the root zone is critical to the operations of the entire global internet.

Due to the US’s role in creating the modern internet, the DNS root zone is under the authority of the US Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) who has delegated technical operations (but not ownership) of the root to IANA, operated by ICANN (a California non-profit company that evolved out of early technical management of the DNS root). The root zone is distributed by hundreds of redundant, load-balanced physical servers representing 13 logical DNS root servers (the 13 logical servers limitation is a technical limitation). These servers are located all around the world.

The DoC and NTIA have been remarkably hands-off when it comes to the actual management of the root zone and have worked to build a “firewall” between the administrative/political and technical sides of managing the DNS root.

Even so, many people (including myself) have concerns about a single country having administrative authority over such a key part of global infrastructure. The US government has recently been seizing domain names of sites accused of copyright infringement, as they claim jurisdiction over generic top-level domains like “com”, “net”, and “org” regardless of where the domains are registered or where the registrant is physically located. What would prevent the US government from turning off country-level domains like “uk”, “fr”, or “se”2 in the root? What about “ir” (Iran) or other countries that the US has various issues with?

Obviously if this happened there would be massive international outcry and a fracturing of the unified DNS system currently in place — this would likely be catastrophic to the internet.

What, then, could be done? Perhaps the authority for the root could be moved to another country? Sweden and Switzerland are both well-known for their political neutrality and freedoms, but again one runs into the problem of the authority being subject to the laws of a single nation.

Perhaps the UN? That’s been proposed as well, but there’s definitely some drawbacks: many UN members are not exactly well-known for their support of free speech and would be more likely to manipulate the DNS for their own purposes. The US, even with its myriad legal issues as of late, has some of the strongest free speech protections in the world and a history of non-interference with the root zone.

Personally, I wonder if it’d be possible to raise the technical management and authority of the root zone above that of any particular country — a technical “declaration of independence”, if you will. If the root zone could be abstracted from any particular physical or political jurisdiction, I think that be a great benefit to the world.

Of course, that would involve a change in the status quo and is unlikely to succeed. The US government has made it quite clear that they have no intention of relinquishing authority of the root zone and any organization (such as ICANN) who intends to operate the root must be physically located somewhere and thus fall under the jurisdiction of some government.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to consider.

Update (about an hour later): The US government just seized a .com domain name registered through a Canadian registrar, owned by a Canadian, operating a legal-in-Canada online gambling site because it violated US and Maryland state laws. (They seized it by issuing a court order to Verisign, the operator of the “com” registry.) This serves to highly my concerns above.

  1. The root name is not normally seen in day-to-day lookups, but represented as a trailing dot. My domain would more properly be defined as “www.arizonarifleman.com.” — note the trailing dot after com; this is the root. []
  2. The Pirate Bay is a big target for authorities, and operates in Sweden under the “se” top level domain. []

Censorship

The House of Representatives and the Senate are considering several “internet blacklist” bills — “PROTECT-IP” in the Senate, and “Stop Online Piracy Act” (“SOPA”) in the House.

If passed, these laws would have a devastating effect on free speech, internet infrastructure, privacy, and current “safe harbor” provisions for websites all while doing little to stop the availability of pirated content.

To quote the EFF:

As drafted, the legislation would grant the government and private parties unprecedented power to interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS). The government would be able to force ISPs and search engines to redirect or dump users’ attempts to reach certain websites’ URLs. In response, third parties will woo average users to alternative servers that offer access to the entire Internet (not just the newly censored U.S. version), which will create new computer security vulnerabilities as the reliability and universality of the DNS evaporates.

It gets worse: Under SOPA’s provisions, service providers (including hosting services) would be under new pressure to monitor and police their users’ activities.  While PROTECT-IP targeted sites “dedicated to infringing activities,” SOPA targets websites that simply don’t do enough to track and police infringement (and it is not at all clear what would be enough).  And it creates new powers to shut down folks who provide tools to help users get access to the Internet the rest of the world sees (not just the “U.S. authorized version”).

I find it terrifying that the US government is even considering such a blatant censorship scheme. This sounds like something one would expect from oppressive regimes, not from a Western nation, and certainly not from the U

Please, contact your Representatives and Senators. This is a Big Deal.

Puerto Rico Gun Law Changes

Here.

Interesting part:

[Justice Department legal adviser Amid] Torres said the measures will include a requirement that shooting ranges keep logs of how much ammunition their members use and cap the number of bullets each client can fire in target practice at 500 per year.

Police Department legal adviser Estrella Mar Vega voiced support for the measures as “more specific and stringent controls to monitor whether people who say they acquire weapons and ammunition at shooting clubs are using them for such purposes.”The attorney deemed it necessary to limit the use of weapons and ammunition that licensed vendors can have and distinguish that from competitive target shooting and hunting.

I went through 150 rounds of 5.56mm ammo the last time I was at the range, and that was a pretty laid-back session. If I’m shooting .22LR, going through a brick at the range in a single day is not uncommon. I’m sure there’s plenty of people who go through 500 rounds in a day or two, let alone an entire year.

I fail to see what such restrictions would seek to accomplish.

In addition, this restriction stands out:

The measure will also limit the quantity of weapons that a person con posses[sic] to take to a gun club.

“It is imperative that we control the transfer from one place to another of the firearms that are owned in Puerto Rico. With this measure we avoid possible tragedies by gun accidents and thefts,” Torres said.

Yes, they want to limit the number of firearms one can transport from home to the range. What the hell will that do?

Despite some of the tightest firearms restrictions in the United States, Puerto Rico also has one of the highest homicide rates, with drug-related gun violence blamed for the majority of the killings.

Gee, ya think?

Violent crime is a symptom. Get rid of drug smuggling, and violent crime drops through the floor. Being that the drug smugglers have no qualms about violating prohibitions on drugs, I suspect they will continue to have no problems violating firearms restrictions. Once again, gun control only affects the law-abiding.

One good thing, however, is mentioned. They say that after the Heller case, there’s now 800 registered gun owners in DC. Yes, it sucks to have to jump through the outrageous hoops they put in the way, but at least some people are standing up for their rights.

Interesting

The recent court ruling in California, which overturned the state’s gay marriage ban1 cited the Heller case thusly:

Tradition alone, however, cannot form a rational basis
for a law. Williams v Illinois, 399 US 235, 239 (1970). The “ancient lineage” of a classification does not make it rational. Heller, 509 US at 327. Rather, the state must have an interest
apart from the fact of the tradition itself.

Cool.

  1. I agree with the court; banning gay marriage is wrong. []